seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Downpatrick Land Mine Attack

On April 9, 1990, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonates a massive improvised land mine under a British Army convoy outside Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland. Four soldiers of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) are killed, the regiment’s greatest loss of life since 1983.

The Provisional IRA had been attacking British Army patrols and convoys with land mines and roadside bombs since the beginning of its campaign in the early 1970s. The deadliest attack was the Warrenpoint ambush of August 1979, when 18 soldiers were killed by two large roadside bombs near Warrenpoint, County Down. In July 1983, four soldiers of the local Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) were killed when their vehicle struck an IRA land mine near Ballygawley, County Tyrone. It was the UDR’s biggest loss of life up until then.

On the morning of April 9, 1990, two UDR armoured landrovers are traveling from Abercorn Barracks to Downpatrick. An IRA unit has planted a 1,000-pound improvised land mine in a culvert under the Ballydugan Road, just outside the town. The unit waits in woodland overlooking the road, about 350 feet away. As the landrovers drive over the culvert, the IRA detonates the bomb by command wire. The huge blast blows the vehicle into a field and gouges a large crater in the road, 50 feet wide and 15 feet deep. A witness describes “a scene of utter carnage.” Four soldiers are killed: Michael Adams (23), John Birch (28), John Bradley (25), and Steven Smart (23). It is the biggest loss of life suffered by the UDR since the 1983 Ballygawley land mine attack. The soldiers in the other landrover suffer severe shock and are airlifted to hospital. According to police, a civilian driver also suffers shock and another receives cuts and bruises.

The bombers escape on a motorcycle which had been stolen in Newry a week earlier, and is later found abandoned in Downpatrick. The IRA issues a statement saying the attack was carried out by members of its South Down Brigade.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher says on BBC Radio, “You take these murders of these four people today alongside those decisions in the Supreme Court of the Republic not to extradite those accused of violent crime – and one is very, very depressed.” Charles Haughey, the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, condemns the attack as an “atrocity.”

A 23 year-old man is later sentenced to 15 years in prison for the attack. He had driven a scout car for the bombers when it was planted the day before the attack.


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1990 Armagh City Roadside Bomb Attack

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) carries out an IED roadside bomb attack at the Killylea Road on the outskirts of Armagh, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, on July 24, 1990. An IRA active service unit detonates a large bomb as an unmarked Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) vehicle and a civilian car pass, killing three RUC officers and a Catholic nun.

Leading up to the attack, on April 9, 1990 four Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldiers (Michael Adams, John Birch, John Bradley, Steven Smart) are killed in a similar attack when the IRA detonates a land mine under their patrol vehicle on Ballydugan Road, Downpatrick, County Down. The land mine contains over 1,000 lbs. of explosives.

On the afternoon of July 24, 1990, 37-year-old nun Catherine Dunne is driving an Austin Metro car with a passenger, Cathy McCann, a 25-year-old social worker. Some hours previously, members of the IRA take over a house close to Killylea Road, two miles outside Armagh, County Armagh, holding its occupants, a married couple and their children, at gunpoint.

A detonating wire is placed from the house to a 1,000 lb. bomb, placed in a culvert under Killylea Road. At approximately 2:00 PM, as Dunne’s car is driving to Armagh, a Royal Ulster Constabulary patrol car is traveling in the opposite direction. Dunne’s car passes by the patrol car just as the police drive over the culvert, at which point the IRA detonate the bomb. Constable William James Hanson (37), and reserve officers Joshua Cyril Willis (35) and David Sterritt (34), are all killed instantly. Their car is blown into the air and lands upside down. Dunne and McCann are both severely injured with Dunne later dying of her injuries.

Witness Paul Corr, owner of a petrol filling station nearby, says, “The ground shook beneath us and it was accompanied by a very large explosion. At first we did not see the police car. The whole place was a terrible mess. Then we saw two young girls in the [Austin Metro]. They were unconscious and looked in a pretty bad way. There was nothing we could do for the policemen. Nobody could have come out of that car alive. It was dreadful.”

The bomb leaves a 20-foot-diameter crater in the two-lane road.

Taoiseach Charles Haughey is quoted as saying, “I know all the people of Ireland join me in my condemnation of this atrocity.”

The IRA releases a message claiming responsibility for the attack, and calls Dunne a victim of “unforeseen and fluke circumstances.” The statement is rejected in advance by political and Catholic and Protestant leaders alike and politicians in Ireland and Great Britain.

Sinn Féin‘s Martin McGuinness says, “Our sorrow at these deaths is genuine and profound, but will be abused by our political opponents who will cynically exploit yesterday’s events for their own political purpose.”

Pope John Paul II sends a message to be read at Dunne’s funeral in which he condemns the “grievous injustice and futility” of the murders that leave him “deeply shocked and saddened.” He implores “the men and women who espouse violence to recognise the grievous injustice and futility of terrorism.”

Two men, Henry McCartney (26) and Tarlac Connolly (29), are charged with the killings. They are later given life sentences but are released in 2000 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.